The music of Taize

The Church of Reconciliation seen in the photo above was built for the Taizé Community in 1962 by the German organisation Sühnezeichen. This group of architects was formed after the Second World War by German Christians to build symbols of reconciliation in places of war-time suffering. The original design was by one of the Taizé Brothers, and the Church groundplan has been added to over the years to form a functional and flexible space for worship. Movable partitions are used to adapt the interior, and the usable space can be expanded outside in the summer using tents.

The founder of the Taizé Community, Brother Roger (left), was born in Switzerland in 1915. After studying theology in in Strasbourg and Lausanne he searched in France for a suitable location to found a religous community. The derelict rural village of Taizé, near the Abbey of Cluny, was chosen. The hamlet was just a few kilometres from the demarcation line separating unoccupied France from the Nazi occupied zone. The Community sheltered many refugees, including Jews, at considerable risk to Brother Roger, who had to flee to Switzerland at one point to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. When France was liberated the Community also worked with German prisoners of war.

Since the war the Taizé Community has developed into a leading ecumenical body committed to reconciling the different Christian Churches, and it has worked closely with Catholic and Protestant groups. The Community has been particularly successful at appealing to young worshipers, and its use of music in the liturgy is central to this appeal.

Taizé has created a uniquely functional style of liturgical music that reflects the meditative nature of the Community. The music emphasizes simple phrases, usually lines from the Psalms or other extracts from the Scriptures, and these are repeated and sometimes also sung in canon with the repetition aiding meditation and prayer.

In its early days the Community used 16th century settings of the Psalms, and music by the Jesuit Father Joseph Gélineau (1920 - ). Subsequently the French composer Jacques Berthier (1923-1994) was commissioned to write liturgical music, and his compositions, which include the Adoramus te Domine above, are responsible for the widespread popularity of Taizé music today. Berthier, who studied at the César Frank School in Paris, had an extraordinary ability to write truly functional music that could be sung in more than twenty languages on a wide variety of instruments ranging from guitar and keyboard to full orchestra. As well as creating music for the Taizé Community he composed much Catholic liturgical music including Masses. The widespread currency of Jacques Berthier's tuneful music probably debars him from categorisation as a 'serious' composer. But his beautifully crafted output does mean he belongs to an exalted category of composers of functional liturgical music that includes Bach and Palestrina.

Helped by its music the teachings of the Taizé Community have spread through Western Europe, and into the United States. The annual New Year meetings, which are attended by tens of thousands of young people, have been hosted by most leading European cities including former communist countries. The 90 year old Brother Roger was killed in August 2005 when an apparently mentally-disturbed Romanian woman stabbed him during evening prayer at Taizé. Brother Alois, a German Roman Catholic, was chosen to succeed him.

* Follow this link for a photo essay on the Taizé community.

* MP3 audio files of Taizé music can be downloaded from Taizé.fr

* There are many commercial recordings of Taizé music available. The Songs of Taizé (now deleted) on Naive is recommended for its 60 page illustrated booklet with meditations by Brother Roger. The Auvidis CD Catate (T 505) which contains fifteen Taizé works by Jacques Berthier.

* A Universal Heart - the Life and Vision of Brother Roger of Taizé by Kathryn Spink is published by SPCK, ISBN 0281057990

* More information and web resources are available from the Taizé web site.

* More on Jacques Berthier's compositions in The joyful power of music.

Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk.


Anonymous said…
THIS I find truly beautiful and breathtaking.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler" - Albert Einstein

Vanessa Lann

P.S. Also, I believe wholeheartedly in music not written for the concert hall. I don't even mean to start a discussion about functional music. I just mean that some music should be written to :

walk to

process to

meditate to

etc etc etc

Sitting in a concert hall in a hard chair with fancy clothes is but one of the many lovely ways to listen to/experience the sounds and the silences that make up music in our human plane.
Pliable said…
In a fascinating intersection of Overgrown Paths I note from Kathryn Spink's biography that Brother Roger visited the GDR in 1980 at the invitation of the Bishop of Dresden, and spoke to 6000 young people in the city's rebuilt Kreuzkirche.

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